Elementary School Takes Appreciative Approach to Change

By Lynn Green, DLC Consultant, Heart-Mind Inquiry Project

Social and emotional learning programs and social-responsibility initiatives which help children develop empathy, effective interpersonal skills, mindfulness and kindness are alive and well in many BC classrooms. We know that such programs are most effective if there is a comprehensive, school-wide approach where social and emotional learning is promoted in the classroom at each grade level, in the hallways and playground, and on the basketball court. But how do we get everyone on board? How do we engage everyone in fostering heart-mind well-being throughout the school community?

Recently Christie Whitley and I had the pleasure of working with the staff of Adam Robertson Elementary School (ARES) in Creston as they addressed that challenge. Recognizing that they want to take a school-wide approach to promoting social and emotional learning, they engaged in a Heart-Mind Inquiry (LINK) process that builds on current efforts and brings them all together around a shared vision of the future.

Initiated by teacher Maria McLean and principal Rod Gilles, the ARES staff committed to participating in an inquiry throughout this school year. Teachers, support staff and school administrators gathered on two professional days this fall to pursue their central inquiry question: “how can we nurture belonging, calmness, joyfulness and responsibility throughout our school community?”

The inquiry was launched at a professional day in September when staff participated in ”discovery” and “dream” activities that explored and surfaced experiences, understandings and insights into the conditions that might impact a sense of belonging, calmness, joyfulness and responsibility throughout the school, and created a shared vision of ARES in 2018 when these attributes  would permeate the school.

 Building on the collective dream they developed, the staff then gathered in November to talk about ways of bringing the dream alive and making it a reality in ARES by 2018. Student engagement and leadership, school environment, community involvement, staff engagement, connecting with nature, and food security, as well as student well-being were identified as key elements in building a sense of belonging, calmness, joyfulness and responsibility throughout the school.

Based on each of these elements, more specific planning for innovation and change began at the session, and will continue over this school year. At the end of the session staff shared their hopefulness, excitement and commitment to championing the growth and change that they had envisioned and developed throughout this process. A strong sense of “being on the same page and feeling part of a team”, strengthened connections, and deeper understanding and appreciation of their colleagues and the school had emerged.

As the ARES staff move forward in making their vision of the school a reality, they will be building on current programs and practices that they know are effective, as well as exploring school-wide innovations that will enhance the social and emotional learning and development of all of the students. We wish them well and look forward to following their unfolding story.

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